Monday, 19 December 2016

How this works

Each post has one big review with a series of smaller ones. Normally just a selection of films I have seen recently (I don't have the time to talk about everything I see because I see a lot of films). I will also discuss other stuff from time to time if I feel so inclined. Sometimes I will make posts everyday and sometimes I will wait a month to post, it just depends on how much free time I have. Older posts may have rankings but I have done away with that.

La la land and more

La la land 

I absolutely loved whiplash back in 2014 so when I heard Damien Chazelle was making a musical in the style of the 70s I was unbelievably excited. Despite this, I did not anticipate just how much I would be blown away by this film.

The first two acts of the film beautifully plays homage to the beautiful musicals of the 70s. The music could not have captured this era more perfectly, though as a general rule, they are not as upbeat as one may expect (there is really only one number that I would describe at "catchy" because that is not what the film is aiming for). More often than not the early parts of the story are told through slow ballads or jazz instrumentals, which were extremely captivating but won't leave you coming out of the theatre singing the songs. As a musical style jazz (a dying art in and of itself) is an inspired choice of music for a film playing homage to a dying art.

The beautiful music is complimented by the film's beautiful look. The cinematography felt very personal, while leaving us a lot of room to breath. This helped me to stay truly invested in the characters without feeling trapped within their skin. This look is obviously aided brilliantly by the sets and costumes, which are build beautifully to often contrast the stunning bright optimism that the film is built on with sporadic dark backdrops. These often feel at once encouraging and romantic but also discouraged and frustrated. While my knowledge of dance is limited, the choreography appeared (at least to the untrained eye) to add work wonderfully with the aesthetic that Chazelle and his crew had created.

This is all exactly what I was expecting, a beautiful homage to a lost art that looks and sounds great. Having seen whiplash I was very confident Chazelle would be able to pull that off beautifully. What I didn't anticipate how it would completely transcend this to create real dramatic tension that offers one of the most optimistically heartbreaking final scenes of any movie I have ever seen. I really do not want to spoil it in case someone ever reads this review but seriously the final sequence in this movie is simply perfection. Between this and Whiplash, I must say Chazelle seriously knows how to end a film strongly. One of the final moments involves a simple smile from Ryan Gosling, which was so perfectly captured that you could feel every ounce of emotion running through the veins of his character.

Speaking of which, I could go on and on about the aesthetics of the film but it would be nothing without the fantastic central performances. Ryan Gosling gives probably his best performance I have ever seen as Sebastian, who is an obsessive jazz pianist. This is met wonderfully by the absolutely perfect Emma Stone as Mia, an LA waitress struggling to break through as an actress. Both sung beautifully (often live I believe) and managed to convey such emotion that you really believed these characters. Neither character felt a single bit one-dimensional (as musical characters often do) and they share an unbelievable amount of chemistry.

To sum up I absolutely adored this movie. I struggle to find any single aspect that was lacking. It sounded and looked great, the acting/ characters were phenomenal, the writing felt real and allowed for multi-dimensional character and the final act just seriously knocked it out of the park. No final scene has ever affected me as much as this one did. I will not forget this movie in a hurry!

Julieta (Spanish)

This is possibly the most real film of the year. The characters are all extremely well realized, albeit in an understated way and this allows for every single moment to be completely believable. Its a film predominantly about motherhood and relationships and it left me with a lot to think about and discuss in the context of a situation that seemed like it absolutely could have been real. Additionally the acting was all very good (especially Emma Su├írez in the title role), the film both looked and sounded great and the plot was perfectly paced.

Life, Animated

A really wonderful documentary about an autistic boy (Owen) whose obsession with Disney movies allowed his parents to get through to him. As an adult he is a truly wonderful human being to see on screen and the director, Roger Ross Williams, brings handles the subject matter so delicately but truthfully that you really see Owen's personality shine. That is all I really want, its fantastic and definitely worth the watch.   

Suicide Squad

So director David Ayer is definitely a butt guy. The first thing I just cannot help but mention is how frustrating his obsession in with shots framed around Margot Robbie's butt as she walks. I guess he thinks "I find this butt sexy when it walks so despite the fact that someone is talking so it would make sense to face the camera at that person, I will just point the camera at this butt". Yeah, classy shit. But if you can get past that (I really can't, it makes the film nearly unwatchable) it is not a good movie anyway. They spend almost half the movie introducing the characters through a series of extremely contrived flashbacks that (I guess) were supposed to get us to relate to the characters but none of them felt the slightest bit authentic and they all went on way too long. Then once we have finally been over-introduced to these characters, they go in and unconvincingly fight some terrible looking CGI monsters and nothing that interesting really happens. Credit where its due, Margot Robbie is fantastic, but beyond her performance I really don't see any real reason to watch this movie (unless you really like butts).

Elle (French)

This film is dark, bizarre and kind of masterful. A film about sexual assault that doesn't shy away from occasional humor and moral ambiguity. I finished it with heaps to think and talk about (as I think is important for a good film). Isabelle Huppert is fantastic in the lead role and she is supported by a great ensemble of actors. It looks great (in a horrendous kind of way), it sounds great and it is ballsy enough to dive straight into complicated ethical situations where our lead character acts in ways that seem so illogical in the most human way. A worthy watch, but a very dark one that could be very divisive and is at times difficult to watch.

Rogue One

A very worthy addition to the star wars franchise. They bring together a diverse cast of really interesting characters to tell a basic and compelling story. I must not understate how great it is that Disney is choosing really diverse casts for these and actually turning them into fun characters. At the end of the day it is nothing more or less than a super fun ride with a bunch of fun folks. The visual effects (as you can imagine) are wonderful, blended with many practical effects. The original score is effective (even if it is just trying to mimick the sound of the original John Williams scores rather than being its own thing). If I have one complaint (it sounds minor but its actually very noticeable) its that they revived a bunch of characters from the original trilogy using CGI and you can tell immediately that its not real. But beyond that its a really fun distracting that will keep you engaged and interested throughout.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

23 November (forgot to publish)

I'm not good at this noting down movies thing but here we go, let's try to carry on. I've watched dozens and dozens of films since last post so these will be really short.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

This was a really fun movie. I love the idea of continuing the Harry Potter universe without any connection to the original story as the universe is vast and interesting but any attempt at revisiting the original characters would likely feel forced and unnecessary. I really hope they keep it that way as the Harry Potter easter eggs were one of the more disappointing parts of the movie. There were several really obvious moments where you could just feel the characters nudging you as they mention a person or situation mentioned in the earlier movies (luckily they could not do this too badly as most of the Harry Potter characters are not alive at this point - although they do try their hardest).

The main cast create a bunch of very fun characters. Eddie Redmayne is wonderful as you would expect and Dan Fogler is a lot of fun as a non-magical character that is picked up along the way - although one criticism I would have is that he is often used rather lazily as an excuse for Eddie Redmayne's character to explain plot points directly to the audience. Topping out our team of protagonists we have Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol who both bring their own quirky energy to the mix. The supporting roles beyond these all feel a bit weak, the main antagonist (who I will not name in the interest of spoilers - although everyone watching will have guessed it anyway) is very one dimensional far too predictable. Beyond them, supporting characters all felt disappointingly like plot devices, with no small parts standing out in the slightest.

One really great thing I did keep noticing about the acting is the choreography, even in the simplest situations. The way everybody stands and holds themselves seems to have been thought out really well. This then translates into any sequences where magic is involved as everyone seems to have their own style. This is a small thing but it gives each character a really unique feel.

As for the actual plot, it gets somewhat stuck between two competing movies. Where the movie opens up and focuses on our protagonist magi-zoologist finding or interacting with his creatures we get some truly magical scenes with such originality and wonder. Unfortunately, at times throughout the movie and more particularly ramping up towards the third act JK Rowling decides that there isn't enough of a movie in this so we need a generic story with an evil wizard and dark forces. This feels very tacked on as if it was saying "oh yeah by the way here is the story that goes with the actual fun movie". Just about every development could be guessed a mile before it happens because it has all been done before.

On a more technical level, this is directed by David Yates who made the final four Harry Potter films. Because of this you have a pretty good idea of how this movie will look and feel coming in. The set pieces and costumes are brilliantly designed - as was the case in the Harry Potter films. So too were the visual effects. I cannot stress enough how magical some of the creature scenes were - everything looked and felt absolutely exquisite. Topping this off, it was shot in a very non-intrusive way and had a familiar (because of the 8 similar films that came before) but lovely soundtrack. 

All in all it is worth the watch. Eddie Redmayne makes for a fantastic protagonist and the main characters all make for a team (even if the rest of the supporting cast are a little weak). It looks and sounds great and there is true magic when we are watching the movie that its title suggests we are getting. I really hope that the sequels build on the best elements of this and do not feel stale.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The 70s were a great time for musicals. They got inventive with them and ended up making just about any genre they wanted into musicals. We seem to have lost our touch with this in the 21st century so it is always a delight to go back and visit the greats. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory really is one of the greats.

The feel of the film is simply perfect, it does not feel like it has aged a day in the nearly 50 years since it was released. The look of the film is crisp/ interesting and the sarcastic wit sprinkled throughout gives the film an instantly endearing quality. This is, of course, helped a lot by the near perfect casting of the late Gene Wilder, who recently passed away. The rest of the cast are great too, as is the music and nearly every line of dialogue. I absolutely adore this movie if by some miracle there are those who have not seen it, they really should.

Pete's Dragon (2016)

Pete's dragon is wonderful. Its not terribly inventive or original but very delightful. The CGI is pretty decent (although the dragon's face could do with redesigning). Every character and situation feels very familiar but it doesn't feel too repetitive. Its also looks and sounds very good. Its by no means the best movie I have seen but it is a good distraction.

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

I found this to be relatively disappointing. Alicia Vikander, who I usually absolutely adore, needed to be seriously toned down - every expression, stance and movement seemed to have been thought through so much that it was overdone and ceased to be believable. Michael Fasbender on the other hand was fine, although the accents in general were all over the place. On a positive note, it looks very pretty (despite the occasional bad shaky cam) and has a wonderful score. Also the overall story is something that could very easily catch my attention, unfortunately the pacing was quite uneven leaving some parts feeling like they were stretched paper thin. There is plenty to like here and there are often hints of a very good movie poking through the cracks but the acting needs to be toned down and it feels like more time was needed in the editing room.